Depending on who you ask, Pilsen is one of anywhere from 70-200 neighborhoods in Chicago. With so many to explore, it’s hard to decide where to begin! Located on Chicago’s lower west side, Pilsen’s art, culture and food make it worth a trip from anywhere in the city. We recently spent a Saturday roaming the neighborhood and are excited to share our favorite finds!
Pilsen has a proud history of being home to strong working-class families beginning with the German and Irish immigrants in the 1840s. Lumber mills, garment finishing sweatshops and railroad yards defined the neighborhood for many decades. Due to labor shortages during World War I and the later expansion of the University of Illinois, Mexican migrants became the dominant ethnic group by the 1950s. The Mexican influence on the neighborhood is still apparent, and its residents have worked hard to preserve Pilsen.
What to Do
For a look into Pilsen’s art and culture, stop by the National Museum of Mexican Art. Admission is free, and the museum houses more than 10,000 pieces of Mexican art. We spent an hour wandering through two galleries before stopping in the gift shop. There’s a huge variety and something for everyone!
The Pilsen Outpost is a fun art gallery and shop open Wednesday through Sunday. They also participate in Art First Friday, an art walk through studios and galleries in Pilsen that is held on the first Friday of every month from 6-9pm. It’s a great way to meet local artists and discover new art.
If street art is more your thing, just head outside! Through a collaboration with the Chicago Urban Art Society, murals have been painted all around Pilsen on the sides of buildings and walls, with many portraying religious and political statements. You’ll find them all over the neighborhood, but the largest concentration can be found on 16th street between the Chicago River and Western Avenue.
If you’re ready to shop, head two blocks south to 18th street to explore Pilsen’s local stores. You’ll find vintage clothing boutiques, record stores, bookstores and more! We love Pilsen Community Books, a new and used bookstore that promotes literacy for the neighborhood. It’s a warm, cozy bookstore with a great selection. (side note – they had candles burning…in a store full of paper! haha)
Verdant Matter is another local boutique offering affordable home and garden goods. They have the cutest selection of succulents and pots! They also showcase many local artisans that make soaps, jewelry and more.
What to Eat
After you’ve worked up an appetite exploring the shops and art scene, you’ll find a ton of great options for food and drinks in Pilsen. I actually first discovered Pilsen through a friend who drove to the neighborhood just to pick up tamales from Yvolina’s Tamales. The fresh and unique ingredients they use made some of the best tamales I’ve ever had! It’s a great lunch/snack spot, or grab some to take home (they freeze well).
If you’re looking for a great dinner spot here’s a few suggestions:
- Dusek’s – American fare with an extensive beer list. Check out their attached bars, Punch House and Tack Room.
- Pl-zen – A great neighborhood bar serving up burgers, beer and more!
- Canton Regio – This BYOB Mexican restaurant was recently opened by the owners of Nuevo Leon, which was recently destroyed by a fire. The place was PACKED when we walked by on a Saturday night.
And last but most certainly not least – do not miss the tasting room at Moody Tongue Brewery! They only serve two food items – fresh oysters and German chocolate cake. The beer is delicious and served in fancy hand-blown Austrian wine glasses. And the cake is out. of. this. world. We had four people and couldn’t finish one slice.
Compared to the casual vibe of most brewery tasting rooms around the country, Moody Tongue is modern and sophisticated. It’s the perfect setting for a date or small gathering of close friends. You can also tour the brewery on Saturdays and Sundays.
Regardless of where you live, Pilsen is a unique, fun Chicago neighborhood to explore. Have we missed any of your favorite spots? What other neighborhoods do you love in Chicago? We love to hear from you, so leave a comment below!